Kobo: the new kid on the e-reader block

Shortcovers e-reading app is rebranded as Kobo.

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Add Kobo to the list of proper nouns (Kindle, Nook, etc.) you need to know in order to understand this brave new world of e-readers. Kobo is not an e-reader, and strictly speaking the business is not a newcomer, but the newly coined four-letter name (an anagram for "book") is one you should learn nonetheless.

Kobo used to be known as Shortcovers (an enterprise spun off from Canadian bookseller Indigo Books & Music Inc.) and is a retailer of e-books that can be read on almost any device: Mac, PC, iPhone, Blackberry, Android, Palm Pre, etc. (You will note, however, that Amazon's Kindle e-reader is not on that list.)

What makes Kobo interesting, in part, are its partners: It has teamed up with Borders, REDgroup Retail, and Instant Fame. What that means is that its e-books are available not only in the US (as is the case with Kindle), but also in Canada, the EU, the UK, Australia, and the Asia Pacific region.

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Later next year, Borders will be incorporating Kobo into its store.

Should the people at Amazon be worried? Charlie Sorrel, writing for Wired today ("Kobo International E-Book Store Launches: Why Amazon Should Be Afraid"), says yes.

Sorrel says Kobo "puts Amazon’s rushed-out Kindle for iPhone application to shame." He also catalogs other nifty features offered by Kobo and not Kindle. "You can browse by category, choose from a new Top-50 e-books list, New York Times bestsellers, Oprah’s book-club picks and more," he notes. "The app also has recommended reading lists (right now there is a 'Season’s Readings' section, and a splendid 'Canadian, eh' list) and a better search function." (He does add, however, that the process for paying via Kobo is clunky.)

Not everyone agrees, of course, that Kindle needs to worry about Kobo. Some of the experts argue that an e-book store is no competition for a dedicated e-reader device.

What Kobo does do, however, is to give the besieged Borders book chain a place in the e-reader universe. "Borders absolutely has to get into this game now or forever be left out of it," James McQuivey, a media analyst at Forrester Research, told Reuters.

Marjorie Kehe is the Monitor’s book editor. You can follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/MarjorieKehe

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